How Important Is Sleep For Your Health?by Tamara Selaman
Why is sleep important?
Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health.
Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role that removes toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.
Getting enough sleep lowers your risk for serious health problems, like diabetes and heart disease. Reduces stress and improves your mood. Enables you to think more clearly and do better in school and at work.
Our sleep position also matters to our health. It affects everything from the brain to the gut. We know that not getting enough sleep can make us feel de-energised. If you are getting enough sleep but still waking up tired, you might need to start looking at what the body is doing after lights are turned off in your sleep.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a concept of an organ clock which is a useful tool in understanding that our energy or qi, moves through the body’s meridians and organs in a 24 hour cycle. Every two hours the qi (or energy) is strongest within a particular organ and its functions within the body. It is said that each organ has its point of highest energy and lowest energy.
This 24 hour cycle is believed to help us know when to exercise, eat, have sex, rest and sleep. It also acts as a way to communicate with a particular organ or meridian (energy channel) of the body.
5 am to 7 am is the time of the Large Intestine making it a perfect time to have a bowel movement and remove toxins from the day before. It is also the ideal time to wash your body and comb your hair. It is believed that combing your hair helps to clear out energy from the mind. At this time, emotions of defensiveness or feelings of being stuck could be evoked.
7-9am is the time of the Stomach so it is important to eat the biggest meal of the day here to optimize digestion and absorption. Warm meals that are high in nutrition are best in the morning. Emotions that are likely to be stirred at this time include disgust or despair.
9-11am is the time of the Pancreas and Spleen, where enzymes are released to help digest food and release energy for the day ahead. This is the ideal time to exercise and work. Do your most taxing tasks of the day at this time. Emotions such as low self-esteem may be felt at this time.
11am- 1pm is the time of the Heart which will work to pump nutrients around the body to help provide you with energy and nutrition. This is also a good time to eat lunch and it is recommend to have a light, cooked meal. Having a one hour nap or a cup of tea is also recommended during this time. Feelings of extreme joy or sadness can also be experienced at this time.
1-3pm is the time of the Small Intestine and is when food eaten earlier will complete its digestion and assimilation. This is also a good time to go about daily tasks or exercise. Sometimes, vulnerable thoughts or feelings of abandonment my subconsciously arise at this time.
3-5pm is the time of the Bladder when metabolic wastes move into the kidney’s filtration system. This is the perfect time to study or complete brain-challenging work. Another cup of tea is advised as is drinking a lot of water to help aid detoxification processes. Feeling irritated or timid may also occur at this time.
5-7pm is the time of the Kidneys when the blood is filtered and the kidneys work to maintain proper chemical balance. This is the perfect time to have dinner and to activate your circulation either by walking, having a massage or stretching. Subconscious thoughts of fear or terror can also be active at this time.
7-9pm is the time of Circulation when nutrients are carried to the capillaries and to each cell. This is the perfect time to read. Avoid doing mental activities at this time. A difficulty in expressing emotions may also be felt however, this is the perfect time to have sex or conceive.
9-11pm is the time of Triple Heater or endocrine system where the body’s homeostasis is adjusted and enzymes are replenished. It is recommended to sleep at this time so the body can conserve energy for the following day. Feelings of paranoia or confusion may also be felt.
11pm-1am is the time of the Gall Bladder and in order to wake feeling energized the body should be at rest. In Chinese medicine, this period of time is when yin energy fades ad yang energy begins to grow. Yang energy helps you to keep active during the day and is stored when you are asleep. Subconscious feelings of resentment may appear during this time.
1-3am is the time of the Liver and a time when the body should be alseep. During this time, toxins are released from the body and fresh new blood is made. If you find yourself waking during this time, you could have too much yang energy or problems with your liver or detoxification pathways. This is also the time of anger, frustration and rage.
3-5am the time of the Lungs and again, this is the time where the body should be asleep. If woken at this time, nerve soothing exercises are recommended such as breathing exercises. The body should be kept warm at this time too to help the lungs replenish the body with oxygen. The lungs are also associated with feelings of grief and sadness.
Chinese Medicine practitioners use this clock to help them determine the organ responsible for disease. For example, if you find yourself waking up between the hours of 3-5am each morning, you may have underlying grief or sadness that is bothering you or you may have a condition in the lung area.
If feelings of anger or resentment arise, you may feel them strongest during the time of the Liver which is 1-3am or perhaps if you experience back pain at the end of your working day, you could have pent up emotions of fear, or perhaps even Kidney issues.
How much sleep do we need?
Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours.
Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
10 Benefits of good quality sleep
- Sleep keeps your heart healthy
- May help prevent cancer
- Reduces stress
- Reduces inflammation
- Makes you more alert
- Improves your memory
- May aid with weight loss
- Napping can help make you smarter
- May reduce risk of depression
- Helps the body repair itself
7 days to better sleep challenge
Day 1 – Reduce Wi-Fi and Electric in the Bedroom
Turn off your wi-fi tonight and all of the electric in the bedroom. Reduce the radiation and waves in your bedroom notice whether you experience a more settled sleep.
If you use your phone as an alarm it will work on aeroplane mode (just test it) and place the phone outside of your bedroom door. Now you HAVE TO GET UP when the alarm goes off
Day 2 – Eat and Drink well before Bedtime
If you choose foods rich in an amino acid called tryptophan. This helps boost the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Chicken and turkey, nuts and seeds are all good choices. Combine these with rice, pasta or potatoes to help the body get the most benefits from tryptophan. Eat 2 hours before bed ideally.
Tart cherries may be able to help you get to sleep faster. They contain melatonin, which is a hormone that can help you sleep and stay asleep.
The minerals and oils in celery juice have a calming effect on the nervous system, making it beneficial for relaxing sleep. Celery is high in magnesium which helps people relax into a soothing, restful sleep.
Chamomile and Lemon Balm tea a renowned for their calming properties before bedtime. Make yourself a cup before bedtime.
Day 3 – What is the BEST sleeping position?
Did you know that the wrong position of sleeping for YOU could cause back and neck pain, fatigue, sleep apnea, muscle cramping, impaired circulation, headaches, heartburn, tummy troubles, and even premature wrinkles.
Try sleeping on your Back or Left Side this week. Here’s why.
- On your Back – with only 8% of the population selecting this position it is the healthiest for most people as it allows your head spine and neck to rest in neutral position. It is also good for warding off acid reflux just make sure your pillow support you correctly. It is not a good position however for those suffering sleep apnea – a condition that causes moment of breathlessness, due to the tongue at times blocking the breathing tube, and can also cause snoring to worsen.
- On your Side – with 15% of the population choosing the position, it also reduces acid reflux and can ward off back and neck pain and snore less. It has reports of increasing wrinkles however as your face is pushed against a pillow on one side. If sleeping on your side ensure you are sleeping on your left side, and not right as it helps the body clear interstitial waste, meaning that gravity can better move waste through your colon. It can help prevent heartburn and you an always place a pillow between your legs to support your spine if needed.
- In the Fetal Position – a whopping 41% of the population sleep in this position. Great position if you are pregnant. Improves circulation of the foetus, and it prevents your uterus from pressing against your liver. Also good for snorers. You need to ensure that it is a loosely curled foetus as too tight can restrict breathing in your diaphragm, and leave you feeling stiff and tight, particularly if you have arthritis in your joints or back.
- On your stomach – 7% of the population sleep in this position. It is the worst position of the 4. Leading to back and neck pain. It is also difficult to keep the spine in a neutral position. It puts pressure on muscles and joints and can constrict the breathing so you must ensure that the head is turned to one side to allow room for breathing.
Day 4 – What is your sleep cycle
A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and during that time we move through five stages of sleep. The first four stages make up our non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fifth stage is when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs.
Here is how to optimise your sleep cycle
TOP TIPS to “Sleep Hygiene”
Dental Hygiene: regularly brushing and flossing your teeth.
Sleep Hygiene: the daily and nightly habits that optimize deep, refreshing sleep.
- Stop ingesting caffeine at 2pm
- Exercise early. At the latest, right after dinner.
- Take a protein snack at bedtime for middle of the night waking. Waking every 2-4 am? This is often caused by a drop in blood sugar. Eating protein is the best way to maintain overnight blood sugar levels. Good choices are a slice of turkey, a hard-boiled egg. Avoid carbs and especially sugar near bedtime.
- Set a fluid STOP time. If you wake up more than once a night to urinate, stop drinking fluids 1.5-2 two hours before bedtime.
- Take a hot bath an hour before bed. Add 1-2 cups of Epsom (magnesium) salts to help induce good quality sleep.
- But keep your bedroom cool and hydrated – use radiator over hangers that you can fill with water
- Write out your list of problems and challenges, and your list for tomorrow TO DO! Then forget about them. This really helps to settle you into sleep and prevent tossing and turning of laying there with items going around in your head.
- If your partner snores, wear earplugs. If it’s still too loud, sleep in another room. Get a restful night sleep – you’ll both feel better for it in the morning
- Create a routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, no matter how much you sleep during the night. This resets your body’s internal sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm), helping you fall asleep faster and sleep throughout the night.
Day 5 – Spend more time out in the daylight
Melatonin v Serotonin
Every morning, if your body, face and eyes are exposed to sunlight your body will increase its production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates everything from mood to sleep. In turn, after 12 hours or so, this serotonin is then converted into melatonin – helping us sleep later that night. Melatonin is great at night when we want to sleep, but when our alarm goes off in the morning melatonin is the last thing we want coursing through our bodies.
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain which inhibits melanin formation and is thought to be concerned with regulating the reproductive cycle. Melatonin helps control your daily sleep-wake cycles. Your body’s internal clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) influences how much melatonin the pineal gland makes, and so does the amount of light that you’re exposed to each day.
Therefore Increase your natural daylight hours, and decrease your blue light at night – increase orange light in the evening, as this can affect melatonin production.
Research has found that exposure to blue light suppresses the production of melatonin more than any other type of light. It is believed that the shorter wavelengths in blue light is what causes the body to produce less melatonin because the body is more sensitive to this type of light.
What can I do to help?
- Make a routine plan where you can be outside at least 20 minutes each daytime
- Use a daytime blue light lamp
- Wear orange glasses in the evening
- Download f.lux on your laptop or android
- Use the sunset to sunrise settings in your iphone
If you do this … you will find that not only your sleep improves but that your daytime function improves significantly.
Day 6 – No Technology 1 hour before bed
Switch off technology 1 hour before bed and improve your efficiency of falling asleep and getting a better quality sleep.
That “glow” from electronics is also at work against quality shuteye. The small amounts of light from these devices pass through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that controls several sleep activities) and delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
It can have an affect on your circadian clock which can get messed up and affect your health in a multitude of negative ways.
Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle. … Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes your body tired.
What can I do instead?
- Read a book
- Listen to a podcase offline
- Have a warm shower or bath
- Socialise – chat – play a game – go for a walk
- Get Creative – draw – sew – knit – make something crafty
Day 7 – Can Meditation and Binaural Beats improve sleep?
You can meditate before you go to bed if you want to relax your nerves, de-stress, calm yourself and sleep tight as a baby. Studies have shown that meditating before bed can cure insomnia and effectively combat certain sleep disorders.
Check in with yourSELF– how you are feeling in body and mind, then simply focus on the breath. Either sit quietly or find a guided meditation to listen to OFFLINE.
You can even listen to binaural beats for sleep. They change the brainwave frequency depending on which you listen to. For sleep they will lower the brainwave frequency that aid sleep and relaxation. Binaural beats activate specific systems in the brain that can have an effect on your body. Frequencies for sleep are claimed to induce the same mental state associated with a meditation practice, but much more quickly.
They can be listened to anywhere, anytime, but are most effective when listened to in an environment conducive to relaxation, such as lying on the sofa, or even performing yoga or tai chi.
10 listed benefits are
- Increased Relaxation
- Better Sleep
- Deep Meditation
- Increased Positivity
- Increased Concentration
- Body Healing
- Lower Stress
- Eliminate Anxiety
- Spiritual Consciousness
Take a search for a meditation and/or binaural beat that you enjoy and listen offline.